Tag Archives: Archaeological sites and monuments

Breaking the silence with an article

Two years ago, during the summer and autumn of 2015 I worked on an article. I set an intention to account for and contextualize the Kvarnbo Hall based on the results of the investigations in 2014. I discussed the site and the building at the state of knowledge at that time in its regional and historical context, in comparison to the full data set of coeval houses on Åland. I also examined the development of Iron Age settlement and explanatorily discussed the rapid and large-scale colonization to Åland evident in the middle of the first millennium AD. As a result, a new perspective for our understanding of the emerging importance of Late Iron Age Åland was provided.

As the text turned out pretty well (if I might say so 😉 ), with lots of new knowledge potentially relevant beyond the Fennoscandian region, I decided to submit it to The Journal of Island & Coastal Archaeology, a well-renowned, peer-review journal rated high among archaeology journals worldwide. I was, of course, well aware of the fact that not only is it more difficult to get accepted in journals of such calibre, but that the wait time might turn out to be rather long. I submitted the manuscript on the 8th of December 2015. And I received positive reviews on the 1st of February 2016. My revisions were submitted on the 12th of February 2016. But then, the great silence spread its wings over the whole thing… (This silence was, however, apologetically explained by the editor during the summer). The processing of my manuscript was resumed in the beginning of 2017 and on the 7th of March 2017 it was finally published online. Why do I provide such a lengthy account on this process? To illustrate the anxiety the author is faced with?? Well, partially, yes, but also because things obviously changed during the excavation 2016 and certain aspects of this article written in 2015, the ones related to the building remains as seen from the infra-red aerial photo, should probably be reconsidered, at least, to a certain degree. In general though, I am very happy with this research being published and thereby providing some interesting stuff on the Late Iron Age settlement archaeology on Åland for a wide audience.

You can find the text following this link: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/9k2H9XfnYqtS7MjTdQAD/full  (the journal provides a number of free downloads of the full article, so first come – first served 😀 )

Mead Cups

by Frands Herschend

Between the 6th and the 11th century, texts in Latin, Old French, Old Friesian, Old High German, Old English and Old Norse tell us about halls, and we come to know them as lavish buildings and important social arenas. In the hall the wealthy and powerful demonstrate wealth and power in a peaceful, generous and civilised way. In the centre of this arena sits the hall owner and next to him his consort – lord and lady. He is power, since he is ‘the bread giver’ that is ‘the lord’. She is his moral compass guiding him in that part of the world where he executes his power – be it local or imperial.

One of her important duties when he has filled his hall with guests and visitors is diplomatic. She addresses a guest when needed and offers him something to drink. For that reason she is called the lady with the mead cup. This role may seem mundane, but since the hall is an arena what she has to say to a guest is for everyone to hear. She speaks in a polished way and everybody catches her drift. To many authors she is elegant civilisation, and beauty, personified. The mead is instrumental inasmuch as it makes it easy for the guest to swallow what she has to say.

Her role is crucial for the life in the hall and so is the quality of the mead which preferably is a tasty, old and strong honey wine (10-15% alcohol). And so she needs the cup. The mead represents the produce of the estate that is a local product of the highest quality. The cup on the other hand is an exquisite object acquired by the farm owner to match the mead. In Late Iron Age Scandinavia this cup is a glass and not a drinking horn. It is foreign, fragile and expensive because it must be imported from the Rhineland, Southern England or indeed Byzantium. That is the kind of connections that the mead cup signals.

In archaeological terms this means that if one excavates a hall, one would expect to find glass sherds. If the hall is well-preserved or indeed smashed, as these centres of civilisation sometimes are, there are hundreds or indeed thousands of sherds on the floor. But if a hall is badly preserved it takes an effort to find them. It is not rocket science to find them when one excavates a well-preserved hall, but if the hall is badly preserved, it takes patience, a lot of sifting and indeed a keen eye. That was exactly what the Kvarnbo excavation team had.

Since the trial excavations in 2014 strongly indicated the presence of the hall in Kvarnbo, it was just a matter of time before glass sherds would be found. Actually, they started coming already the second day. A rim sherd from a typical early 7th century glass cup. Now, there are several small sherds from at least five glasses. Once the rim belonged to a slightly bluish thin transparent glass that brought out the deep golden colour of the mead.

Of all the diagnostic finds we have recorded during this season, the glass sherds are still the most characteristic hall-indicating artefacts.

Mead cups

Diagnostic digging

with Frands Herschend

One of the things we ask ourselves at Kvarnbo is if there were any other Late Iron Age hall farms like Kvarnbo on Åland, and how many more Late Iron Age settlement sites there could be in today’s agriculturally exploited areas. The reason is simple: if we had had a not too expensive way of finding the remains of such sites, we would get a much better grip on an important formative period in the history of modern Åland, prior to its becoming a part of the Medieval Swedish realm.

Fieldwork at Kvarnbo is meant to – actually, it is designed to proceed in well-defined steps that allow us to understand what a given archaeological step in the field will lead to. We test, investigate and proceed with new tests and new evaluations in order not to go astray, but to proceed in a rational way building up our knowledge base and predict the outcome of our actions.

This stepwise method teaches us a lot about Kvarnbo as well as a good deal about Late Iron Age hall farms and their halls in general. We have of course made a mistake or two – nothing irreparable – but most often our predictions have been quite correct. Today we would not be entirely surprised if we came across the remains of yet another Ålandic hall, next to a church in a well-drained, slightly elevated position. Most probably, test pits on such a site will reveal that farming during hundreds of years has taken away all the cultural layers above the site and moved plough soil in such a way that it will partly cover (and indeed protect) low laying prehistoric layers. Already now, with the help of metal detectors and amateur archaeologists, students and volunteers methodically digging 1 m2 test pits during 2 or 3 weeks, supervised by an experienced archaeologist, we could in all probability confirm or reject the existence of a hall farm. In the coming weeks we will become even better at defining a hall site without actually excavating it because our checklist will become longer and more specific.

Diagnostic diggingIt is probably not possible and perhaps not even sensible to excavate a complete farm site that has not suffered the ravages of the plough. However, there is a great point in finding these Ålandic farms and, why not, another Ålandic hall in today’s farmland, since doing it will reveal the first truly political geography on Åland. Indeed, to the visiting archaeologist sitting in the morning at Marie Bar in the sunshine drinking his coffee reading the daily newspapers eating one of the exquisite sandwiches waiting for his ride to Kvarnbo, the political geography of Åland seems still to be a significant subject and a more ambitious metal detecting project in cooperation with professional archaeologists and interested amateurs could be highly productive in this regard.

Plow layer as context…

Plogjord som kontext…is the name of a brand new collection of articles by researchers who gathered in Oslo to discuss the scientific potential of soil that has been heavily disturbed by plowing. This is a theme that naturally concerns our project as well. In many countries, the plow layer is not regarded as constituting an ancient monument (sw. Fornlämning) due to the fact that the finds in the layer can no longer be tied to a specific context. This is also the reason why continued plowing of fields with traces of prehistoric settlements is allowed, since the ancient monument is considered to be the destroyed features below plowing depth and not the plow layer itself.

At the same time, the finds from the plowed horizon can, on a more general level, give important scientific information. Christiansen (2016) discusses the plow-related movement of coins from prehistoric hoards and concludes that, even though parts of the hoards can be found over 80 meters from their original position, most of the finds can be found within a few meters, up to 10 meters from where they were originally buried. This is of course also modified according to terrain, mode of cultivation and morphology of objects. For example, large irregular objects are transported more easily by the plow than small, regular pieces.

The effect of repeated plowing on underlying features. From Martens 2016.

The effect of repeated plowing on underlying features. From Martens 2016.

When we decided to manually investigate the plow layer at Kvarnbo through systematic sampling, it was partly based on the idea that we could obtain rough spatial information from finds, which could be related to both the information from the infrared photography showing the contours of the building, and also to the features hopefully to be uncovered at a later stage. Another aspect was the collection of Iron Age finds other than metal, such as pottery, glass, bone, clay daub etc, which would give qualitative information to the site as a whole.

The results look promising so far. Judging from the finds from the initial test pits registered, in the western part of the building, many of the find categories (burned clay, burnt and unburnt bone in particular) seem to be concentrated outside the building itself, while the inside is relatively empty. Maybe this means that there is still a possibility to reconstruct a general picture of the find distribution within and without the house? It is also encouraging to see, that the amount of obviously later finds is not as high as predicted. Certainly the plow layer contains porcelain, modern glass, etc, that cannot be connected to the use of the site during the Iron Age, but there is a chance that a large portion of the finds are to be associated with the building. This is certainly the case with the Iron Age pottery and the glass beads unearthed to date!

Read more about the subject in J. Martens & M. Ravn (eds.). 2016. Pløyejord som kontekst. Oslo.

by Kim Darmark

Winter is coming

Winter at workWell, winter as the season of the year will astronomically start in some days (I think its 22nd of December this year?). In terms of proper snow and ice as a defining factor, winter will probably skip its accepted appearance on Åland even this year…. However, it is not the matter of seasons and their characteristics I would like to share today; I would like to introduce Winter as a film production company. They have produced a number of commercials here on Åland and are now, on my sponsor Ömsen‘s behalf, working on creating a special website to the Kvarnbo Hall research. I am pretty excited about this new web platform in creation; obviously, the blog will be integrated into this new home page and will surely benefit from an updated design. But Winter is also working on a short movie trailer that is meant to tease and excite about the project. This is probably not the easiest task in the word – it is, after all, the knowledge creation process they must aim to create hype and attract attention to. But I think it will turn out just fine. Especially as this trailer is produced together with Disir productions working on the 3D reconstruction of the area and the things that have been done for this reconstruction look already absolutely amazing!

DSCN1594How do you think the Kvarnbo Hall looked like in the end of the Late Iron age for the people living 350 meters north from the longhouse site? The scene today is decidedly different 😉

Site report

Well, it took its time, but the report of the archaeological investigations in 2014 is now finally ready 🙂 You can read it or look at the pictures in it here: Ilves Kvarnbohall 2014 (although there is a short abstract in English, the main text is in Swedish).